Archive for the ‘Iraq’ category

High Fives Yet… Hmmm, Maybe Not Yet

December 30, 2015

National Public Radio aired a report this morning which should awake the sensibilities in anyone who cares to be sensible. The report covered  Presidential strategies in the face of political opposition. The case in point was President Eisenhower’s response to American panic when Russia began to flex its muscles in the early 1950s.

President Eisenhower was well aware that the Soviet Union’s strategic intent was ultimately to defeat the capitalist West.  The Soviet Union thought the West would tire of constant little wars and communism would triumph over capitalism in the market place.

Eisenhower concluded that the least desirable option was to allow America to get involved in a string of land wars. Eisenhower saw the uncertainty of these types of conflicts and that they would drain US resources.  Even more to the point, these little wars could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

Eisenhower elected to avoid land engagements and confront the Soviet Union with nuclear containment.

Critics, the same type as the neoconservatives who championed the Iraq invasion and occupation, railed against the weak and feckless policy. Many openly championed a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Hmmm.

History, not without a few white knuckle moments, has proven Eisenhower’s direction a wise strategy.

President Obama has also taken a lonely path with his Middle East strategy. Obama has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq (and is well on the way in Afghanistan) because local ground wars are loosing propositions. Instead, President Obama has offered military support, including air power, to Middle East nations willing to fight terrorists.

The President’s strategy has been described as wrong, indecisive, and feckless. GOP candidates have promised “carpet bombing” and more troops to root out ISIS, and… (there is nothing offered about the future from these candidates).

In the past few days, Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from ISIS in a campaign which combined American support (air power) and Iraqi “boots on the ground”. Hmmm.

It is too soon to declare victory for the President’s strategy. Time will need to show Iraq’s resolve to push ISIS out of the rest of Iraq and that the Shiite dominated central Government can govern the Sunni western Iraq. But what a good beginning.

Presidential strategies often are lonely positions to hold. With political opposition who value winning at all cost, the responsibility of leading our nation in a world still populated with nuclear weapons is a serious task.

President Obama seems at this point to be the only adult in the room.

A Suspension Of Common Sense

November 19, 2015

The blood bath that took place in Paris last Friday truly would qualify for the moniker of “a suspension of common sense”. What possibly could the terrorists have thought was achievable by their suicidal acts?

There is no way the Western world will walk away from Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and cede the land to a radical Islamic regime bent on using theology to accumulate personal wealth for its leaders. They will not be satisfied with a little, they will want it all.

There is no way “Shiite” Iran will allow it either. And even “Sunni” Saudi Arabia cannot condone ISIS behavior. In short, sooner or later, ISIS and its current group of leaders, just like Osama ben Laden or Mullah Mohamed will cease to lead and in all likelihood be followed by other opportunists.

Money has a funny way of bending the minds of otherwise sane people.

But Paris isn’t the only place where there appears to be a suspension of common sense. Look no further than Washington DC and the GOP Presidential primary candidates.

The GOP has seized upon the vanishingly small risk associated with accepting Syrian refugees and in just days have build it into a do or die issue with President Obama. Governors (all but one Republican) have pompously announced they will not accept any Syrian refugees. House Republicans are now rushing new legislation through Congress to codify what would qualify as a fully “vetted” refugee. A procedure which no requires 18-24 months would become prohibitively long. Hmmm.

These are the same people who claim while beating their breasts that America is an exceptional country. Hmmm.

Occasionally, there will be a documentary about the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent during World War II. The move, which was clearly unconstitutional, stands as a stain on America and separates the US from Nazi Germany only in that the Government never intended to exterminate Japanese citizens.

By labeling Syrian refugees potential terrorists, the GOP is reaching back to the World War II xenophobia which took hold of the American spirit. Instead of exceptional, American now looks vulnerable and frightened.

Apparently the GOP doesn’t care and sees fanning these flames as a sure way to garner votes. Hmmm.

ISIS and World War II

October 27, 2015

News reports today said President Obama would soon announce his approval of a military plan to move US military assets closer to the front lines in Syria and Iraq. What does that really mean?

On one level moving troops who are already there and not changing their mission seems like “no news news”. This announcement, however, could mean much more. And much more is probably not wise.

As World War II drew to a close, Allied Forces raced towards Berlin intent on getting there before Soviet troops. The race was all about territory and seizing most of Germany and its capital thereby keeping the Soviet Union contained in Eastern Europe. The Soviets had the opposite goal and wish to extend its influence as far as it could.

One possibility for the US Syrian repositioning might be similar to WWII. If one believes Assad is about to fall, then the US might want to have a presence in Syria.  Subsequently, a partitioned Syria might geographically provide the West with territorial advantages helpful in concluding a larger peace plan. In return for Russian withdrawal, the US could agree (without losing face) to withdraw too.

The US Iraq repositioning could follow similar logic but this time towards Iran. Iran will have continuing interests with Iraq and will want a route to resupply its client, Hezbollah, in southern Syria.

There is, unfortunately, another explanation.

“Head to tail” thinking (the opposite of comprehensive) has marked US Middle East involvement since George W Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation.   US military may be just saying they need their special operations personnel closer to the front than where they are currently placed without necessarily thinking about unintended consequences. Just a military tactical adjustment. Hmmm.

Until last week, it had been over two years since a US military member was killed in Iraq. With the death of a special ops master sergeant, the US may be stepping again onto a slippery slope.

The level and quality of Congressional “war talk” is extremely worrisome. There is no shortage of politicians willing to criticize President Obama, calling him weak and lacking any type of Middle East plan. If you listen, however, not a one of these chicken hawks has a comprehensive Middle East plan. The politicians are acutely aware that there is no stomach in the voting American public for another ground war in the Middle East but with elections ahead, these politicians want swagger points.

President Obama needs to demand comprehensive plans from the military which entail only the amount of troops currently there. The illusion that if ISIS were suddenly eliminated there would sunshine and peace in the Middle East must not take root in military or political thinking. ISIS is just the current group of thugs.

The Middle East is fundamentally a mess and will remain so until radical Islam is rejected and a real move to modernity is made. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

One of the great foreign affairs successes of the Cold War went by the name “containment”. US policy was aimed at containing, not eliminating the spread of Soviet Union influence. The US Middle East enemy is not Russia, it is rather the failed States/lawless radical Muslim extremist groups who are set on making a better life for themselves without adopting modernity.

Containment could be the answer once again.

Saying What You Mean

October 1, 2015

There is a familiar expression which goes, “Say what you mean, mean what you say”. Recent Washington events can put some dimensions around this saying. The events were the Pope’s visit, Representative Mike McCarthy’s comments on Benghazi, and the GOP’s perspective on the Russian entry into Syria.

1. The Pope’s visit was a smashing success for Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. The Pope’s use of symbolism to emphasize the importance of humility, tending to the poor, and acceptance of all people was moving. In carefully crafted language the Pope verbally communicated what he tried to symbolize, and, also carefully alluded to catholic dogma which most Americans find less acceptable.

Namely, the Pope gave no room for a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, nor did the Pope offer hope for a more sensible approach to family planning, and the Pope omitted any direct reference for an equal place in life for the GLBT community. The Pope said this by not saying anything to the contrary.

But wait, we now have heard that the Pope met privately with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for contempt for denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. In an eerily similar move to transferring a priest accused of child abuse or paying hush money to victims on the basis of them dropping criminal charges, the church once again tried to have it both ways.  The Pope kept speaking about the sanctity of all persons while his conservative handlers orchestrated a private meeting endorsing Davis’ actions.

Clearly child abuse is a human problem and not restricted to the celebrant church officials. Being opposed to birth control or abortion are matters of conscience and these beliefs can be widely held. The Catholic Church stepped out of bounds when it supported the suppression of information on criminal activity (presumably to not tarnish the church’s reputation) and now when it supports illegal actions (Davis refusal to issue licenses) to advance the church’s faith based beliefs.

Meeting openly with Kim Davis is one issue, not meeting with women’s groups or members of GLBT groups sends an equally clear message about the still broken planks in the church’s efforts to represent itself as a modern church.

2. Representative Mike McCarthy has declared his intentions to seek the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Speakers job goes to someone who is a GOP leader and well informed on GOP strategy.  In comments to Fox News, McCarthy committed an unforced error by speaking the truth. When asked to name some accomplishments of the GOP controlled House, McCarthy cited the Benghazi select committee. McCarthy attributed the drop in Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers as a direct consequent of the GOP lead investigation and proof of its accomplishment.

For anyone with a heart beat, the investigation’s purpose has been clear for a long time. For McCarthy to utter this confirmation is amazing (for telling the truth) and completely a political mistake for admitting what was patently obvious. It should be no wonder why public opinion polls of Congress register so low.

3. In the murky Syrian situation, so many Republican politicians and GOP Presidential hopefuls are weighing in on “President Obama’s failed policies”. Each one of these critics decry the President’s policies of limited involvement but also cling to the notion that troops on the ground are not necessary. “The US is not acting, Russia is”, they spout. “Our allies will begin to forsake the US and turn to Russia”, the political rhetoric goes. Hmmm.

There is no question that Syria has become a humanitarian tragedy. But if Iraq has taught anything, it is that American idealism is sorely misplaced as the foundation of a Middle East strategy. There is no Russian idealism and doing what is necessary to keep Assad in power is all that is necessary.  (Like with Afghanistan when Russia invaded and was eventually defeated, Syria is equally a bed Russia will not like to sleep in.)

If the GOP really is interested in ending the Syrian turmoil and defeating ISIS, there must be honesty about what it would take. Nothing less than another Iraq type invasion and occupation with most likely a subsequent redefinition of regional boundaries would be necessary. All of this would need to be supported by a US draft and imposition of war taxes. (I wonder whether Mike McCarthy would admit that too?)

GOP Debate – 1 Out Of 7?

September 18, 2015

The second GOP Presidential nomination debate was a huge hit with Americans. An estimated 1 out of 7 households were tuned to CNN. There must have been some important information covered that evening for so many Americans to tune in. The press has had a field day picking the various candidates who “won” the debate. Hmmm.

If you watched the three hours or if you have seen on any number of talk shows’ clips of what the candidates said, you know one thing – last night was not a debate and offered little or no insight into each candidate’s perspective on domestic or foreign issues. The debate was entertainment.

Imagine, Jeb Bush said that brother George kept America calm following 9/11 and helped the nation heal. Brother George looked petrified on 9/11 if you recall and when he spoke to firefighters with a bull horn, he told them America would find the perpetrators and bring them to justice without apparently knowing that Dick Cheney and friends were already planning their Iraq takeover.

America did identify Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda, tracked them to Afghanistan, and neutralized their operations (and their Taliban hosts) in a relatively short time. Jeb did not add that 12 year later the US is still mired in Afghanistan.

The debate message (later emphasized by Jeb Bush people) was that Jeb showed emotion and flashed a more dynamic style. The content of Jeb’s remarks were a side issue to them.  Hmmm.

The second debate had already been billed as a “get Trump” night. Each of the other candidates had prepared lines aimed at dirtying Trump. Many of their attempts were successful and at evening’s end, Trump had taken a lot of incoming. The country was not any wiser about what the great problems the next President would face nor even a hint on how these problems would be addressed.

Scott Walker’s enemy number 1 were the unions. A wide number of candidates felt defunding Planned Parenthood, even at the expense of a government shutdown, was a worthy, if not necessary step. Immigration was mainly about how high the wall should be. And anything involving foreign policy was the result of President Obama’s “failed policies”.

The TV viewership was never the less impressive.  I wonder whether the real take away is that a “reality show” look alike just might be the best game in town?

When One Cannot Preach To Others

September 17, 2015

The horrific immigrant mess that is unfolding currently in Europe seems to defy explanation and resolution. Boat loads of desperate people are trying in anyway possible to gain entry to any European country. North Africa is only about 100 miles from location in Italy and Syrian refugees can be as little as 10 miles from Greece when they reach the Turkish west coast. With a boat and strong will, Europe is just a short distance away from the destitution they are leaving behind.

Economic migrants have always been a touchy problem with which to deal. How can wealthy countries turn away fellow human beings who have little more than the clothes on their backs? But in general, economic migration does meet fairly strict limits, if only to persuade millions of others not to attempt entry and to cash in on generous social services. Destination countries almost always have generous welfare programs which the immigrants seek. The current flood of refuges is difficult to categorize because so many, while traveling with limited or no funding, are also fleeing war zones and/or political oppression.

In war times, “displaced persons” are not unusual. Neighboring countries often set up camps where these displaced persons wait out the war and quickly return to their original homes as soon as hostilities cease. (Palestinian refugees are one exception and many still live in squalid camps in Lebanon.)

Europe is the preferred destination for the current crop of Syrian refugees. There simply are too many for the limited camps in Turkey and Lebanon. Traveling south through Syria to the Jordanian border is too dangerous and east to Iraq is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. So, the Syrian people who have given up on any reasonable government (Assad or any of the rebels) have decided in mass to flee. Hmmm.

Europe is not one country, however. Italians speak their own language and value customs, food, and everyday way of life that has been handed down for centuries. In their own way, the same can be said for Spain, France, Germany, the UK, and all the other countries that make up Europe. Immigrants from Africa don’t look the same as most Europeans and those from Syria don’t have the same religions (and often food preferences). In essence, these immigrants are not the same as Europeans, separately or collectively.  But given this tough choice, Europeans seems to favor hard working Syrians.

Consequently, as each European country deals with Syrian refugees who land on their doorstep, the reception these refugees receive varies based upon the wealth of the country. Overall, however, it seems Europe would prefer there were not so many immigrants. Europe, however, appears paralyzed and unable to act except as individual countries.

We are now learning from the GOP Presidential hopefuls that the entire Syrian refugee mess is attributable to President Obama, and dare I say, “his failed policies”. How these candidates can muster the audacity to say such things is amazing. If they would say such things now, just imagine what they might say if elected? (How about Iraq has WMD and we must remove them?)

Following these candidates logic, I assume they would have preferred the US to either (1) invaded Syria with US troops and toppled the Assad regime, or (2) heavily armed and financially supported rebel forces (loyal to the west) against Syrian government troops. Hmmm.

The first case involving US intervention would have created its own set of refugees and almost certainly would have generated new opposition groups even if the US were successful in over throwing Assad. Another Vietnam? How about another Iraq?

The second case of using a surrogate presumes the US had the ability to pick correctly the least evil or least corrupt insurgent group. Hmmm. In addition, the second case would lead to a protracted civil war where the flow of refugees would rival what we are seeing now.

Hmmm. What are these candidates smoking?

The US is no position to advise Europe on how to deal with large scale immigration given its handling of Mexican undocumented residents. The GOP is in an even worse position to advise upon what should have been done in Syria’s Arab Spring, especially given the Iraq invasion and occupation debacle.

Maybe the candidates are too busy talking and have too little time to think about what they are saying.

GOP Claims About Middle East – Bring It On

May 21, 2015

GOP Presidential hopefuls are now singing to a not so unfamiliar song, “President Obama has lost Iraq and Syria”. The chorus of this song assures listeners “the GOP is strong on security and will destroy the enemies overseas”. Hmmm.

For the GOP, there are many ways to lose the 2016 election and only a few ways to win it.  Keeping away from extremes and demonstrably incorrect proposals provides the highway to victory.   The GOP hopefuls, however, see only their current competitors (all GOP members) and have constructed their sound bites with an eye to one upping their colleagues. Come November 2016, these claims will almost certainly come how to haunt them.

For foreign policy. the Middle East and ISIS seems to GOP candidates the most attractive target. President Obama “should have” done this or that, and the President “shouldn’t have done this or that”.  No doubt the Middle East is a mess but here is why the GOP had better tip toe quietly on this subject if they want to win in 2016.

  • There was no reason to have invaded Iraq in the first place. GOP President George W Bush under pressure from his GOP Vice President Dick Cheney rammed the invasion through on what have been shown to be trumped up and erroneous grounds.
  • The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was bungled and unleashed a host of predictable sectarian problems which are playing out today.
  • The surge, which seemed to stabilize Iraq, in fact was not based upon US troop strength as many GOP members allege. Rather, the “surge” was about “buying the loyalty of Sunni militias and taking them off the battle field. Once the Shiite led government took charge, the payments were cut off and hell returned.
  • The Iraq War was fought with a volunteer military and borrowed money. Why in the world is it just to go to war with only those who need a job and to fund this activity with money our children and grandchildren must pay back? If the GOP wants to advocate a new draft based military and a special war tax to pay for it, they will have at least gain some credibility. (not likely to happen)
  • Syria and Iraq are not the worst or most dangerous place in the world today. Arguably they are also not the most strategic. What about North Korea or China’s South China Sea aspirations? What about Russia and its desire to regain the Soviet Union greatness?
  • And just what could the US do to put the genie back in the bottle? Help the Shiites and de facto help the Iranians? Or help the Sunnis and make the Saudis happy and the Iranians upset. How long do you think peace would last?

The Middle East future is still immersed in a cloud. While Sunni versus Shiite is real, even more real is Saudi oil against Iranian oil, or said differently, it is a groups possessing oil and power against all those who might want to take it from them, especially those without oil.   In short, the Middle East does not appear today as a great place to move the family.

On one level, simple partisan politics could explain the GOP argument that President Obama lacks a Middle East strategy.   On another level, and a far more important insight, the GOP’s view is dangerously naive. As a Presidential campaign plank, the GOP argument would rival “into the valley of death rode the 600”.